Virtual reality has a wow factor. Each new iteration rekindles that wow. In 1996 I sat in an early VR prototype, wearing a helmet that weighed nearly as much as I did, lost in wonder. Yesterday I got a chance to play with a Samsung S9 and Gear VR and was instantly wowwed.

We had an Oculus Rift in the office at the end of last year. It too was an amazing device, but like its predecessors the wow faded and eventually what was left was a flawed experience. With the Rift, the much talked about ‘screen door’ effect and low resolution eventually too the shine off the experience. That coupled with difficulties connecting it - the Rift demanded powered USB 3 ports that were mounted without going via a hub - and Nvidia graphics conflicts that meant it rarely powered on first (or even second) time, were the death knell for it.

And so it goes with VR headsets. The S9 and Gear VR with controller is fantastic and great value, but it too is left down by minor quirks. The controller drifts meaning that while for the first few minutes you have an astonishing, wowwey experience with a virtual light sabre, eventually it’s pointing off at a random 45 degree angle and the only way to reset it is to exit the app, detach the phone from the Gear VR, unpair the controller, repair the controller and start again.

However, this isn’t all doom and gloom. Wow begets wow. Each iteration builds on the successes of the last. The HTV Vive Pro (or Oculus’ next generation headset) may solve the screen door problem, the quirky controller just needs an easily accessible reset button, the power management, connections and driver issues will get resolved. When they do, as app developers, creators and users (and everything in between), we’ll be able to exist and co-exist in virtual worlds. What will we do with them? After the wow, what then?

Most technologies have been through a similar cycle. The windows, icons, mouse and pointer (WIMP) interfaces created at Xerox Parc in the 1980s are now the mainstay of almost every windowing system in use today. From Unix to Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OSX, these WIMP interfaces pervade. I wonder if their creators looked at them and said “wow, er… what now?” Many visionaries took those ideas and wove together products from them. Some failed spectacularly. Some successes redefined the scale.

It’s an exciting time for VR.



Leave a Comment